Textbook prices up despite pressure
The government's push for publishers to unbundle the sale of school textbooks and teaching materials was criticised as a failure yesterday as a newly released price list showed the cost of some books affected had risen anyway.
The government's long-standing tussle with publishers to end the practice of giving teaching aids free to schools but adding their cost to the price of textbooks is aimed at reducing the price of books. Publishers are to unbundle textbooks from other materials in phases.
But the new price list released yesterday showed that prices for some unbundled textbooks went up by 4 per cent, almost the same as for other textbooks.
Critics said prices could come down only through more participation by the government in the industry and using teachers to write the teaching materials now supplied by publishers.
'I have always had doubts,' former secretary for education and manpower Joseph Wong Wing-ping said. 'It's just like shampoo and conditioners being priced separately. Will they get cheaper?'
The development came a day after education chief Michael Suen Ming-yeung appeared to have scored a victory in his stand-off with the publishers when they agreed to release the price list. They had earlier withheld it in response to Suen's policy U-turn on Monday, easing what was previously a total ban on free teaching materials.
The recommended book list for the 2012/13 academic year showed that 102 of 723 textbooks that were priced independently - 15 per cent - had become cheaper by an average 1.4 per cent.
Another 30 per cent, or 222 textbooks, were priced on average 2 per cent higher - and some as much as 4 per cent - than the previous year, with the rest the same as previously.
'The promises were not fulfilled,' said Chin Kin-wing, vice-chairman of the Federation of Parent-Teacher Associations, Sham Shui Po District.
Chin also has reservations about Suen's plan for a HK$50 million subsidy to help not-for-profit publishers develop electronic textbooks in an attempt to break the dominance of a few big players in the market. 'In Sham Shui Po, not every family can afford a computer and teach the children how to use it at home,' he said.
Ho Hon-kuen, Education Convergence vice-chairman, said the pricing was a setback for Suen and other top officials such as undersecretary Kenneth Chen Wei-on, and that they both should be docked a month's salary.
Wong, secretary for education and manpower from 1995 to 2000, said the government should introduce more competitors through public tender.
Government schools should use books supplied through the tender process to give incentives to newcomers while retired teachers could contribute to the production of teaching materials, he said.
Publishers last year agreed to separate the sale of textbooks for student use from teaching materials over three years, giving priority to textbooks for important language subjects and mathematics.
Schools worry that they may need to dig deep into their own reserves in the long run to buy teaching tools, as they are no longer free.
A spokesman for the chief executive-elect's office said yesterday that incoming leader Leung Chun-ying would not comment on policies of the current government.
Counting the Cost
How debundling affected the price, on average, of 723 textbooks:
102 down by 1.4 per cent
222 up by 2 per cent
Source: Education Bureau